The Beaver English Department teaches active reading, writing, reflection, and analysis. In our explorations of language and literature, we encourage students to access both their imaginations and their intellects. As they learn, students develop the means of confidently and skillfully expressing their knowledge, observations, and feelings. We believe that engagement with literature leads students to explore human nature, understand multiple perspectives, question the world around them, and appreciate the power and complexity of language.

Ninth grade classes are all offered at the Standard level only, giving students a year to accustom themselves to the demands of the upper school curriculum. In the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades, students may elect to take their English courses at the Honors level during the course selection process. Specific expectations for honors students are outlined below. While the English department is committed to providing every student with a challenging curriculum, the Honors option is open to any student who wishes to engage with the subject at an even more sophisticated, complex, and demanding level. In making their decisions, students should consult their current English teachers and/or the head of the department. Decisions should take into account level of interest as well as ability in English.

In grade 10 through 12, students may elect to take their English course at the honors level by signing a contract. Honors students are expected to be leaders in class discussions, to maintain a high level of enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity, and to demonstrate a superior level of critical analysis in all written work and on honors-specific prompts on assessments. Earning Honors credit requires that after electing Honors and signing the contract, that the student continues to live up to these expectations.

English 10: American Literature

American Morality (Required)

What does it mean to be American? From the revolution that defined our independence to the very cases contended today in the Supreme Court, in this required course we address all elements of Americanism, the beautiful and the sordid. In doing this, we turn to great American writers whose professed goal it was to define generations of American citizens, and we use these writings to ask the question: What does it really mean to be American?

For the second term of American Literature, students choose one of the following courses:

American Identity

There are myriad tangible and intangible ways that we define ourselves — from large scale identifiers like nation and religion, to the little things, like choosing what shoes to wear in the morning. The Identity Term looks at identity through varied American lenses, and all of these perspectives help inform our own perspectives of who we are and why we believe the things we do.  

American Journeys

From switching schools to road trips to crossing borders to westward expansion, movement and travel are quintessential parts of our individual journeys and America’s history. In this class we explore the relationship between movement and change and the impact on characters’ development and sense of self. Through these journeys, we hope to get a better sense of the role of movement and travel within the American experience and experiment.

English 11: Rhetoric

The View (Required)

This required term of English 11: Rhetoric focuses on the power of perspective. We will explore and cultivate our own voices through creative non-fiction, non-linear storytelling, and poetry. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, a craft that will bring us to conversations about politics, culture, business entrepreneurship, advertising and marketing. In this, we will both develop a lens through which we read expert texts while also writing our own way into knowing.

For the second term of English 11: Rhetoric, students choose one of the following courses:

Prose and Politics

This term of English 11: Rhetoric explores how storytelling informs politics — the politics of government, race, joy, and all other aspects of the human condition. We will explore how political movements inject themselves into all facets of experience, from the personal to the communal and beyond.  


This term of English 11: Rhetoric dives into the idea that change can come through acts of defiance and transformation. We will explore the notion of protest, both the individual and the societal, ultimately asking the question: “How are we, at our very core, reactions to our environment, or even protests against the status quo?”.

English 9: Telling Stories

Stories teach, challenge, reveal, guide, and inspire us. They push us to explore the human condition through a different lens, and in their most powerful moments, stories help us develop empathy and foster change. In English 9, we use stories to understand our world, and in doing so, we re-invent ourselves from English students to curious, engaged readers and writers. Throughout both trimesters, students read, write, act, create, listen, watch, wonder, debate, and present; they work independently and collaboratively, use their questions as starting points for their work, and use technology to deepen their learning. Ultimately, they connect the characters and themes to the world today. Readings include fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and drama, incorporating ancient and contemporary texts. Most days start with independent reading or writing, and grammar and vocabulary are integrated into the week.  

What is Power? (required)

In this trimester course, we question the nature of power. What is the intersection of power and our characters’ gender, age, race, political beliefs, socio-economic reality, or experience? What is the relationship between power and fate? Why do some characters let power compromise their beliefs while others use their power for good?

For the second term of English 9 students choose one of the following courses:

Friend or Foe?

In this trimester course, human connection is at the heart of the stories. As relationships are tested, characters learn about themselves and the world. Ultimately, these characters deepen our understanding of compassion, strength, and the wide-ranging definition of friendship and love.

Truth or Dare?

In this trimester course, we dig into the relationship between truth, knowledge, and risk. As our characters face challenges to their beliefs, they examine how their beliefs developed into truth in the first place. Through these characters, we explore what happens when different or alternate truths come into conflict and what is needed to build understanding.

English: Ambition, Power, and Disillusion

How do people exist when other people or forces are against them? And will all this drive them mad or bring them to enlightenment? We will read texts and examine protagonists as they battle with societal and familial expectations and their own mindset. In this, we will explore the intersection of ambition, power, and disillusion.

English: Contemporary Poetry

The word “poetry” conjures up, for many, the likes of Sappho, Chaucer, Basho and Whitman; not everyone is aware of the present state of the genre. Poetry’s landscape is populated with an incredibly broad range of styles, forms, tones, influences, and subject matters. While Peter Jay Shippy re-imagines the story of Oedipus and Sarah Manguso wonders what music they play in hell, Martin Espada watches a man decapitate parking meters. By reading the poets of today, you will find proof that language, used precisely and thoughtfully, can achieve many different goals. In addition to reading and analyzing samples from the spectrum of contemporary poetry, you will have opportunities to write and workshop your own poems. A willingness to take risks, to read each night, and to take an active role in class discussions is required.

English: Great Books

When was the last time you were responsible for picking your reading for a course? At the beginning of this class, you will generate a list of books you want to read and then you will campaign for your favorite; after the campaign season ends, you’ll vote and several books will win. We’ll spend the term reading them, examining them for character, theme, structure, style, and message. Is it a Great Book? Ultimately, you will decide whether the books deserve spots on the shelf. You will respond to the reading in various forms of writing, class discussions, projects, and presentations.

Previous winners: 1984, Lolita, Brave New World, Catch 22, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, Scarlet Letter, On the Road, The Kite Runner.

English: History and Literature of Boston: Immigration and Neighborhoods

In this course, we will investigate the city of Boston, the arc of its development, and the cultures which have clashed and melded to make the city we know. The class will track commonalities connected to the “U.S. East Coast” urban experience, yet also highlight the “uniqueness” of Boston. This interdisciplinary course will help students understand Boston by looking closely at historical, literary, and artistic experiences and artifacts through a variety of lenses.  Units on immigration, politics, and popular culture will direct study of the history and literature of the city.

English: Literature and Film

Did you like the movie or the book better? Is this a sensible question, or are we being asked to compare unlike genres? In this course we will investigate these two art forms, comparing the narrative possibilities — and limitations — of each. How do these modes of storytelling differ in terms of their effects? What can film achieve that a novel or play cannot, and vice versa? What is lost in the translation of literature into film, and what makes a “good” adaptation? We will read two novels and a play closely, and we will study a film based on each. You will think and write critically about how these stories are told on the printed page and on the screen.

English: Modern Fiction

The New Yorker is one of the most well-known magazines for contemporary poetry, short stories, and journalism. In this class, students will read a New Yorker issue each week, cover to cover, and spend their creative energies designing and writing their own magazine issue. At the end of the term, students will have their issues professionally printed in color.

English: Money, Money, Money

What is money’s place in society? Why do so many students say that The Great Gatsby inspired them more than any other text? What other stories use money — or the lack thereof — as a central theme? What is the connection between money and power? What is revealed about inequity in society? What messages are sent, reinforced, and challenged? What happens when the whole system explodes? In this class you’ll read fiction and non-fiction, write, watch, and listen, and then design a question and research, collaborate, and present your findings.

English: Race in American Literature

This course will anchor itself around Jeffrey Allen Renard’s novel, Rails Under My Back, and explore the black American experience. We will read poems, essays, and excerpts from other writers that include Toni Morrison, Tracy K. Smith, and Ta Nehisi Coates.

English: Science Fiction

In the 1960’s, American literature experienced a formidable boom in science fiction writing. The complicated politics of the time led to “The New Wave,” a literary age of up-and-coming writers addressing America’s more contentious social and political events through the medium of science fiction. Future literary giants like Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Jorge Luis Borges, and William S. Burroughs, among many others, began incorporating science fiction modes and techniques into their novels to further dissect this phenomenon we call existence. With the advent of new film technologies, Hollywood caught on to the wave and began producing America’s first big-budget, full-length science fiction movies.

English: Short Stories

How does something so small pack such a big punch? Such is the nature of a short story. You’ll hone in on story elements by investigating a variety of stories and writers.  Everyone has a story to tell. You’ll experiment with turning your own stories into short fiction, and you will continue to develop analytical essay writing skills.

English: Solitude: Investigations of Stillness and Silence in Literature

This course will investigate the power of Solitude. We will look at themes of silence, listening, stillness, and being alone. Students will read, write, and explore these themes and ruminate on how they play out in the personal, cultural, political, and social realms. They will write, read, share, and work together to find a language to discuss the quieter and more nuanced tones of conversation—conversation with others and conversation with self.

English: Songbook: My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Butterfly: Albums as Literature

Have you ever heard a song that evoked an emotional response in ways that you could not describe? Have you ever considered why strings in a pop song always take it up a slight level? Do you ever ponder how Kanye West’s chipmunk funk sparked an era of good feelings in hip-hop? If so, you’re ready to dissect some of music’s most profound works. Using the format of podcast, we will examine both Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. Additionally, you will develop the skills and ability to create your own serialized podcast that examines an iconic album of your choice. In this, we will discuss and deconstruct lyrics, samples, instrumentation, cultural context, and musical and literary allusions within the works. We will leave this class not only enjoying music, but learning how to read an album as one would read a book.

English: Storytelling

Each of us has an inner world of images, memories, and dreams. This internal landscape holds unlimited possibilities for storytelling. This course will help you explore your personal mythology, discover your own voices, and polish your writing skills. Through a variety of exercises, you will shape memory and imagination into elements of the short story: character, setting, dramatic structure, point of view, and theme. You will workshop your work both in class and by making use of Buzzword, a web-based program that offers a comprehensive editing platform.


Possible texts: stories and essays by Angelou, Boyle, Burnham, Cheever, Cunningham, Fondation, Forché, Miller, Minot, Oppenheimer, Painter, Salinger, Shae, Tolstoy, Updike, and Wolff.

Independent Study

Students have the opportunity to explore English, History, Mathematics, Science, Language, or Arts topics of interest under the supervision of a member of the appropriate department. After designing a project with a faculty member, the student presents a formal proposal to the Department Heads for approval. (An Independent Study may not duplicate the content of another course already being offered by the department because of schedule conflicts.) The student works in his or her own time and meets with the specified department member during one scheduled period per week for discussions and planning. Application forms are available from the Upper School Director. Proposals must have been submitted by the regular course selection dates.